University of Tennessee

Alumni Spotlight: Patricia Hinton

April 25, 2016

Patricia Hinton (MS Statistics ’81) started her college career as an anthropology major at UT Knoxville, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1973 and a master’s in 1975. She took a position as a research assistant in the Center for Human Growth and Development at the University of Michigan and worked there for four years—until her growing love for statistics brought her back to the Haslam College of Business.

“I did a lot of data analysis in my job at the University of Michigan, looking at familial correlations in weight, height, skinfold thickness and blood pressure in the federal Health and Nutrition Examination Survey databases, as well as in a local longitudinal study,” she says. “I got really interested in data analysis methods and tools, so I came back to UT and earned a master’s of science in statistics in 1981.” Hinton then returned to the University of Michigan, where she worked as a research associate, again focusing on public health questions, before moving to Dallas and landing a job at the American Heart Association’s National Center in 1983.

Hinton started out as a biostatistician at the organization, in its Planning and Evaluation Division. “My first project was to conduct a survey of U.S. physicians to better understand how they managed patients with congestive heart failure,” she says. “At the time, there were some new medications available as well as the traditional approach, so it was very interesting to see what doctors were choosing at that point.” Hinton and her coworkers analyzed the responses and published articles based on the results.

A few years later, Hinton was promoted to lead the staff group responsible for assessing the impact of AHA programs.  She and her team evaluated direct mail campaigns and new AHA worksite and school site programs, using statistical analysis to decide how well these strategies were working to enhance revenue or to change awareness or behavior.

In 1987, she moved to the Division of Research Administration. “I worked in that department for many years, first as an evaluation consultant, and then as director of the division, which oversaw all the research program activities for the AHA,” she says. “The association funds several thousand cardiovascular and stroke researchers in the U.S., and our responsibilities included advertising the availability of funding, receiving and organizing the peer review of applications, notifying awardees, and monitoring their progress and expenditures throughout their support from the AHA.  We also evaluated the impact of AHA funding on the careers and scientific productivity of those whom we funded.”

Before her retirement in 2012, Hinton also participated firsthand in the application of technology to the research funding process.  “I coordinated the development of increasingly sophisticated and web-based research management systems during my tenure in Research Administration, ultimately achieving a virtually paperless process,” she explains. “The AHA mission is to build healthier lives free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke. A career highlight was using my statistical and data analysis training to describe the AHA applicant and awardee pool and measure the impact of the AHA’s research funding in support of the mission.”

Analytics is essential in the nonprofit sector, according to Hinton, who still works part-time for the AHA. “No matter what you want to do, you need to be able to measure the impact of your actions,” she says. “If you decide you want to make your organization better known to the public, you must measure public awareness before and after your efforts. Similarly, if you want to understand whether a new program you’ve created is changing behavior, you need to be able to measure that effectively.”